In the last 24 hours, airstrikes have begun in Idlib province in Syria. Expectations are that this is the beginning of a large scale military offensive on the last area that lies outside of the control of the Syrian government.
The people trapped in Idlib are afraid of a major military offensive similar to Aleppo, and a potential chemical weapons attack like in Ghouta.
Idlib is home to some 3.9 million people, including a million children. More than half of the civilians have already been displaced at least once from elsewhere in Syria.
At present, 2.7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs. This number is likely to dramatically increase if a large scale military operation goes ahead.
Idlib is seen as the last stronghold of Syria’s opposition groups. Many who have fled here will have nowhere left to flee. A large scale military operation in Idlib could put the whole population at risk. It could severely impede humanitarian access for millions of civilians, and cause an estimated 700,000 Syrians to be displaced.
For the last eight years, we have watched with horror as the war in Syria has unfolded. We have seen unimaginable atrocities, including children being victims of chemical attacks, and ancient cities reduced to rubble.
The war in Syria has created the largest displacement crisis in the world. Almost 12 million people have fled their homes since the war began eight years ago. Over 13 million Syrians are now in need of humanitarian assistance, and more than 5 million Syrian refugees are displaced outside the country.
The Irish government must use its voice at international level to push for a diplomatic resolution to this conflict, and for all parties to respect international law. Eight years of conflict is too long and any action now is too late for the over half a million people who have been killed.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, should publically call for those responsible for the offensive to protect civilians and if they don’t, then they must be held accountable. Furthermore, displaced people have a right of return and this must be secure.
The complete lack of adherence to the norms of international law by the warring parties in Syria is abhorrent and it has created huge suffering.
The world can’t stand by and watch another massacre in Syria.
Éamonn Meehan is Executive Director of Trócaire.